1 December is World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is commemorated each year on the 1st of December.  It is an opportunity for every community to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV and remember those who have died.  The theme for the 2021 observance is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice”.

Despite the remarkable progress in the global HIV response, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths remain unacceptably high.

HIV remains a global health crisis

In 2020, there were:

  • 7 million people living with HIV, including 10.2 million who were not on treatment.
  • 5 million new HIV infections.
  • 680 000 AIDS-related deaths.

According to the 2021 UNAIDS Global AIDS Update, globally in 2020, 84% (31.6 million) of people living with HIV knew their HIV status, 73% (27.4 million) accessed treatment and 66% (24.8 million) were virally suppressed.  The report also shows that in sub-Saharan Africa, 6 in 7 new HIV infections among adolescents (aged 15 to 19 years) are among girls and young women (aged 15 to 24 years).  The COVID-19 pandemic put many children out of school, placing them, especially girls, at higher risk of contracting HIV.

Impact of COVID-19 on HIV testing and ART referrals

HIV testing and referrals for antiretroviral therapy (ART) were badly affected by COVID-19 during 2020.

In South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, for example, data from 65 primary care clinics showed a 48% drop in HIV testing after the first national lockdown in April 2020.  There were also fewer new HIV diagnoses and a marked drop in treatment initiation.  This occurred as 28,000 HIV community health-care workers were shifted from HIV testing to COVID-19 symptom screening.  Similar trends were seen around the world.

Good news

According to the 2021 UNAIDS Global AIDS Update:

  • There were an estimated 210,000 tuberculosis-related deaths in 2019 among people living with HIV. This is a 63% reduction since 2010, when tuberculosis claimed the lives of 570,000 people living with HIV.  The biggest reductions in tuberculosis deaths among people living with HIV was in India (83% reduction since 2010), Kenya (70% reduction), South Africa (77% reduction) and the United Republic of Tanzania (71% reduction).  These achievements represent tens of thousands of averted deaths.  In South Africa, for example, an estimated 36,000 people living with HIV died of tuberculosis in 2019, compared with almost 160,000 deaths in 2010.
  • The HIV treatment programme in South Africa reaches more people living with HIV than any other in the world, with almost 5.1 million adults (aged 15 years and older) receiving ART in 2020.
  • South Africa and Uganda reduced the annual number of children acquiring HIV by more than 70% in 2010 to 2020.  This is mainly due to the increased provision of ART to pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV.

What can we all do to contribute to ending the HIV Epidemic?

  • Know your status.
  • Tell apart HIV facts from myths, remember knowledge is power.
  • Adopt HIV preventive behaviours.
  • Disclose your HIV status to your sexual partner.
  • Be responsible, take ART when you are HIV positive.
  • Don’t discriminate against people that are HIV positive.

Know your status

The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested.  You can’t rely on symptoms to tell whether you have HIV or not.  Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information so you can take steps to keep yourself and your partner healthy:

  • If you test positive, you can take medicine to treat HIV. By taking daily prescribed HIV medicine, you can make the amount of HIV in your blood (your viral load) very low.  So low even that a test can’t detect it (called an undetectable viral load).  Getting and keeping an undetectable viral load is the best thing you can do to stay healthy.  If your viral load stays undetectable, you have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner through sex.
  • If you test negative, there are more HIV prevention tools available today than ever before.
  • If you are pregnant, you should be tested for HIV so that you can begin treatment if you’re HIV-positive. If an HIV-positive woman is treated early in her pregnancy, the risk of transmitting HIV to her baby are low.

HIV screening using a HIV/AIDS rapid diagnostic screening tests provides same-day results.  These screening tests facilitates early diagnosis, treatment and care.  People can also use HIV self-tests to test themselves.  However, no single test can provide a full HIV diagnosis.  You need a confirmatory laboratory test conducted by a qualified health worker.  Following a positive diagnosis, people should be retested before they enrol in treatment and care to rule out any potential testing or reporting error.

Know your status, get tested today.